Recent reports indicate that two of the large advertising agency holding companies, Publicis and WPP, are in trouble. As Financial Times wrote, “Publicis and WPP are in the badlands,” detailing the “unforgiving” nature of the ad industry and the challenges each agency faces. Shares in WPP and in Publicis are at half their value since recent highs (2017 and 2015 respectively). M&C Saatchi reported its second profit warning in three months and watched its stock nose-dive 46%. The existing advertising agency model that brought us iconic, memorable campaigns, is being upended. Google, Facebook, the large consulting firms, mobile phones, shrinking attention spans, digital dominance and “data-everywhere” are changing the very nature of how brands communicate to customers.
If you turn the sound off of your TV, other than the logos, whether you are viewing an Applebee’s ad, a Chili’s ad or an Outback ad, the messages are indistinguishable. This commonality in creativity is illustrated by the use of generic thinking. It goes like this: “The power of ….” Currently, HP is using a variant of the power of… “The power of real.” And so has Paychex, the payroll brand… “The power of simplicity.” So is Bank of America… “What would you like the power to do?” Several years ago, Dell used “The power to do more.” On its website, Panera has a section on the “Power of Soup.” Whenever in doubt about what your brand stands for or what to tell the consumer, default to “The power of….” This kind of brand thinking is a reflection of the overuse of research testing over creativity, Asking consumers to be creative is a certain road to genericization of communication. It is lazy thinking.
Yet, it seems that the fate of advertising may be linked to the comment from actor and entrepreneur, Ryan Reynolds who told The New York Times, “Ads are generally disposable pieces of content.” David Ogilvy, Bill Bernbach, Mary Wells and Phil Dusenberry just turned in their graves. These advertising greats would be horrified to learn that advertising has been demoted to disposable, fleeting bits and bytes of single use creations. With the digital advances making short-term marketing spend easier to measure, the marketing focus has shifted away from long-term brand ideas. Forget a solid, continuous, long-lasting brand campaign like Nike’s “Just do it,” McDonald’s “I’m lovin’ it,” De Beers’ “Diamonds are forever,” or Apple’s “Think different.” Advertising messages are now short-lived, disposable throw-aways, meant to capture someone’s attention for a moment and then disappear in the ether.
The love affair with digital, data and devices has eclipsed the understanding that truly creative, memorable, persuasive and consistent advertising has an important role to play in brand building. Advertising is not a single use wet wipe. The primary role of marketing in general, and advertising in particular, is to create, reinforce and increase brand loyalty.
Brand loyalty is what brand owners hope for. Regardless of the small screen digitization of our world, a great advertising campaign can be a key driver for establishing and maintaining brand loyalty.
Response to advertising is selective: experience with a brand strongly affects one’s response to an ad and advertising can affect one’s response to a brand experience. The most important effect of meaningful brand advertising is to build and reinforce brand reputation Advertising helps to reinforce a customer’s personal perceptions of the total brand experience.
Too many marketers merely focus on building brand and advertising awareness. Awareness is a yes/no dichotomy… you are or you are not aware. Brand loyalty is a matter of degree… the loyalty is weak or it is strong or it is somewhere in between. A brand’s customers are more or less loyal.
In the new digital world, “clicks,” “views,” “are the new metrics. The ability to go viral increases viewership of the communication. But it is unclear whether this massive viewership creates or increases or reinforces brand loyalty. Brand loyalty is something that grows, slowly and incrementally. A brand can generate clicks and views but not necessarily build brand use or brand loyalty. However, if you are predisposed to a brand, you are more likely to be influenced by the brand messages. As in the political arena, those who lean toward supporting the Democrat brand tend to prefer MSNBC. And their feelings are reinforced. While those who lean toward supporting the Republican brand, tend to prefer Fox news. And their feelings are reinforced.
The focus on short-term, disposable viewership is an unfortunate byproduct of the digital age. Sustainable advertising campaigns designed to create and reinforce brand loyalty will be a thing of the past.